Spring thoughts: Why defensive expectations should be curbed for 2012
It’s no secret that, in the last three seasons, the Auburn defence has been like butter under Ted Roof – and it’s been even harder watching it. There was limited improvement, and some of the basic fundamentals were non-existant (especially consistent tackling).
In Roof’s first year (2009), his unit gave up 26.9 points per game, which was good for dead last in the SEC. A year later, in which I expected some moderate improvement, saw the defense surrender 24.5 points per game, which was an extremely underwhelming product. And although we saw the rise of first-rounder Nick Fairley that season, it still felt as though we were underachieving on that side of the ball, National Championship aside.
In 2011, where a big drop-off was expected, due to losing experienced starters, but an upgrade in talent nonetheless, we saw the defense give up nearly 30 points per game (29.3 to be exact), which was good for second to last in the SEC. It’s been tough to view the defence as a liability the past three years, whereas we saw it as a strength under Tuberville, every year. No matter what you may have thought of Tuberville’s time at Auburn, there’s no doubt that he knew defence, and he had some damn good ones.
The hiring of Van Gorder was a grand-slam hire. It was after the 42-14 Iron Bowl drubbing where I was officially sick and tired of having a defence made of sponge, and I was not only hoping, but expecting Chizik to take the offseason seriously, and make the correct staff moves that would benefit the team all around. He went out and hired a proven defensive coordinator in Brian VanGorder, and then brought in a new defensive-back coach in Willie Martinez. Both were terrific and necessary hires, which will allow us to finally see the improvement that has been way, way overdue.
VanGorder will inherit a fairly young defence, which will clearly need some work done to become the force that we want it to be. But it’s not as if the recruiting efforts of the last three seasons will go to waste. Don’t believe everything you hear about VanGorder needing three years tops to produce, because he has nothing in the cabinet. VanGorder will have more than enough talent at his disposal, so we won’t be waiting three more years for a competitive defence – at least I hope not.
In 2012, we will go up against some tough offences – as we do every year – but we should expect to see some moderate improvement as the year rolls on. VanGorder has the benefit of having the majority of the unit fairly new to the college game, which means he’ll get to implement some of his own schemes and packages (although not drastically different to Chizik’s).
But I’ve always believed that the unit will only be as good as the position coaching is. It’s obvious that better players improve a team, no matter how poor the play calling may be. It’s important for Pelton, Thigpen and Martinez to step up into their roles and provide VanGorder with the talent that he needs. His Georgia defences had a lot of talent, a lot of which ended up on NFL rosters.
The defence will be thrown straight into the cages as our first two games are trips to Atlanta and Starkville, in which we face two very dangerous offences in Clemson and Miss. State. It will be interesting to see how well we play in those games, and whether it could set the tone for the rest of the year.
The unit has a lot of potential. We may not see a real Auburn defence until 2013, but 2012 should be treated as the stepping stone. The team as a whole is still fairly young, and the defensive players will get a chance to learn from some talented position coaches. I know many are hungry for another National Championships, but patience is necessary – we don’t want to run them out of town before they’ve even started.